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Robert Lang brings home bronze

by Staff Writer / Detroit Red Wings
TORINO, Italy - Alexander Ovechkin, Russia's dynamic young forward, trudged down the corridor for what would be the final period in his Olympic debut. Just before stepping on the ice, he kissed the blade of his stick in an attempt to woo out of it a goal or two.

It didn't work.

The Czech Republic built a 2-0 lead over two periods and extended the Russian scoreless streak to 120:23 en route to a 3-0 victory and the bronze medal Saturday night. The Czechs managed to mine a medal with a 4-4 record in the eight-game tournament.

"I really think teams figured us out," Russian goaltender Evgeni Nabokov said.

Finland applied a five-man game to Team Russia in their semifinal, choking out the neutral zone and the middle of the ice. Throughout the tournament the Russians repeatedly said that if they played a team game and didn't rely on their individual talents to win games, they would be unstoppable.

"They put us in a position where we had to play individual hockey," Nabokov said. "They took away the speed and the passing lanes. We dominated the corners, but whereas we scored from the crease in the Canada match, we were not able to do that tonight. I think the Finns showed them how to play against us."

Martin Erat opened the scoring with a slap shot from the left circle in the midst of a delayed penalty at 4:48 of the first period. Robert Lang won a loose puck behind the net and distributed his prize to David Vyborny at the bottom of the circle. The Columbus Blue Jackets forward spotted Erat to set up the shot.

Lang smiles after receiving
his bronze medal on
Feb. 25, 2006.

The turning point of the game came in the second period and it started with some light shoving between Czech defenseman Pavel Kubina and Russian whiz-kid Evgeni Malkin. For some reason, Ilya Kovalchuk took offense and on the ensuing faceoff caught Kubina with a vicious check that send him smashing head-first into the boards.

"We'll wait till tomorrow morning and see the doctor," Kubina said. "But right now I am just feeling really tired. I was going to the corner between two guys, that's all I remember. I saw one on the right, but he came on the left."

Kubina was cut, stunned and left the ice for the remainder of the game. So did Kovalchuk who receive a five-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding.

The Czech Republic added a bronze medal to the gold they won at the 1998 Games in Nagano. "It was a little detail and in a game like this it mattered," Nabokov said.

Marek Zidlicky made the Russians pay with a slap shot from the top of the slot at 6:36.

The Russians had a chance to equalize with 14 seconds to go in the period when Alexander Kharitonov whiffed on a bouncing puck and a yawning net.

"We watched a little bit of the (Russia-Finland) game, yes," Czech goaltender Tomas Vokoun said. "There's no secret to beating the Russians. The Finns didn't come up with it. You beat a team by playing as a team with a solid effort and great goaltending."

Vokoun, who was benched in favor of Milan Hnilicka in the Czech's quarter- and semi-finals matches, received some vindication by stopping all 28 Russian shots.

"Playing for the bronze medal is hard," Vokoun said. "Losing a semifinal is very breaking. We were still disappointed for what happened (Friday) with Sweden, but we won and I'm happy for the medal."

The Russians did put the puck in the net at 16:08 of the third period when Pavel Datsyuk swatted at a loose puck. Referee Thomas Andersson quickly ruled against the goal, calling it a high stick. Datsyuk protested fiercely and, in the process of skating by Andersson, bumped the official's elbow with his helmet, drawing 10-minute misconduct.

Martin Straka sealed the scoring by trading passes with Erat and eventually sliding the puck into an empty net with eight seconds to play.

"For me, personally, the bronze is a great result even if I'm sure that if we had played better with Sweden, we would have been on the ice tomorrow and not tonight."
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